The SumeroTamil Epic of Gilgamesh



Against the background of general acceptance of a significant number of scholars on the relevance of SumeroTamil studies for unraveling the mysteries surrounding the genesis of Dravidian/Indian civilization, I now venture to introduce studies pertaining the epic tale of Gilgamesh, the third millennium Ramayana and MahaBharata of the Sumerians and Babylonians that was asjust deeply influential as the Hindu itihasas. While it has undoubtedly an interest of its own as the earliest epic of mankind that tells the moving tales of a valiant King, it has added interests for the Tamils for it is for the most part composed in Sumerian which I take it as Archaic Tamil and which as such may have some influence in the genesis of such classical epics as Mahabharata Ramayana Kanta PuraNam and so forth.In Sumerian we have also Lugal Banda Epic tales. It should also be noted here that in PuraNanuRu, it is mentioned that Mahabharata battle was fought among the Pandiya kings with some participation from the Ceras. Many scholars have also pointed out that the key names in Ramayana are in fact Tamil. These all point to the fact that in deep past where the whole of India was essentially Dravidian, the various episodes which later came to woven into epic tales preexisted possibly as folklores


Anyway I am just throwing these ideas as preliminary remarks towards the study of these epics against the background of the Sumerian. In this series I just give the summary of the epic and exactly as given by Alexander Heidel in his fascinating book “ The Gilgamesh Epic and the Old Testament Parallels” ( pages 5-13). In connection with this, the following remarks  of Heidel may be of some interest:

" The Gilgamesh Epic, the longest and most beautiful Babyloanian poem yet
discovered in the mounds of the Tigris-Euphrates region, ranks among the
great literary masterpieces of mankind. It is one of the principle heroic
tales of antiquity and may well be called the Odyssy of the Babylonians.
Though rich in mythological material of great significance for the study of
comparative religion, it abounds with episodes of deepest human interest, in
distinct contrast to the Babyloanian creation versions and , although
composed thousands of years before our time, the Gilgamesh Epic will, owing
to the universal appeal of the problems with which it is concerned and the
manner in which these are treated continue to move the hearts of men for
ages to come. To Bible students in particular it will be of special interest
because of the eschatological material and because it contains the best
preserved and most extensive Babylonian account of the Deluge" (p.1)

" The date of the composition ofthe Gilgamesh Epic can therefore be
fixed at about 2000 BC. But the material contained on these tablets is
undoubtedly much older, as we can infer from the mere fact that the epic
consists of numerous originally independent episodes, which, of course, did
not spring into existence at the time of the composition of our poem but
must have been current long before they were complied and woven together to
form our epic: ( pp. 15)

The SumeroTamil Epic of Gilgamesh A Summary

Like the Odyssy, the Aenid, and the Nibelungenlied, the Gilagamesh Epic opens with a brief resume of the deeds and fortunes of the hero whose praises it sings. It first extols the great knowledge and wisdom of him who saw everything and knew all things; who saw secret things and revealed hidden things; who brought information of the days before the flood; who went on a long journey (in quest of immortality), became weary and worn; who engraved on a tablet of stone an account of all that he had done and suffered; and who built the walls of Uruk and its holy temple Eanna ( Loga: il -anna : heavenly temple)


After these lines the text in the Assyrian edition, of which alone the proem has been preserved, breaks off. But, to judge from the first two lines of the next column and from the Hittite recension, the epic went on from here to relate the story itself. When the text again becomes fairly connected, the epic has already turned to the oppressive reign of Gilgamesh.

In his exuberant strength and vigor, his arrogant spirit and undisciplined desires, Gilgamesh apparently carries the maidens of the city off to his court and drives the young men to such heavy labors on the city walls the temple Eanna that the inhabitants at length invoke the gods t relieve them of their unbearable burden. At last gods listen to the cry of the oppressed and tyrannized population and decide to create a counterpart to Gilgamesh to divert the latter’s attention to other matters, by having the two constantly strive, or wrestle, with each other.


The resultant creation is a wild-looking human being of titanic strength called Enkidu ( Loga: eeN kaadu?)His whole body is covered with hair; the hair of his head is long like that of a woman, and the locks of the hair on his head sprout like grain. He knows nothing about land or people and is garbed like Sumuqan, the god of cattle and agriculture ( Loga: Sumuqan> SaNmugan ?) . With the game of the filed he ranges at large over the steppe, eats grass and drinks water from the drinking-places of the open country, and delights in the company of the animals.


First through the dreams, and then through a trapper, Gilgamesh learns of this unique individual and sends out a courtesan to enchain Enkidu with her charms and to bring him to Uruk. There Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, at the entrance to the community house. This place was to be the scene of one of Gilgamesh’s nocturnal orgies. But Enkidu is so repelled by this unseemly affair that he tries to block the passage to prevent Gilgamesh from entering the house. Thereupon a bitter struggle ensues. The two fight with each other like infuriated bulls. They shatter the doorpost of the community house and cause the walls to shake. They fight id the doorway of the community house and they fight on the streets. Finally Gilgamesh succeeds in forcing Enkidu to the ground, whereupon the fury of Gilgamesh abates and he turns away. Enkidu acknowledges Gilgamesh as his superior, and the two, admiring each other’s strength and prowess, form a friendship.


At first thought it might seem that the purpose of the gods has been frustrated. But in reality it has not, for Gilgamesh now devotes his attention to his newly won friend and dreams of adventure, which is to insure everlasting fame for himself and his companion. Soon the two, armed with gigantic weapons, are found on a dangerous expedition against a terrible ogre, whose name appears as Huwawa in the Babylonian and Hittite versions and asHumbaba in the Assyrian recension. ( Loga: Humbaba< kombu-ba : the person(ba) with horns (kombu)? . The word ‘komban’ is still in use to indicate someone of extraordinary powers) This ogre had been appointed by Enlil, the lord of the gods, as the guardian of a distant and almost boundless cedar forest, but in the pride of heart he evidently overshot the mark and is therefore deserving of punishment. After a long journey the two companions arrive at the gate of the forest, which is guarded by the fearfulwatchman placed there by Humbaba. The watchman is skilled, and Enkidu opens the gate to the beautiful cedar forest. But alas! The gate is enchanted, and as Enkidu opens it, his hand is paralyzed, and he hesitates to proceed.However upon urgent plea of Gilgamesh, who may have resorted to magic and thus may have restored Enkidu’shand to its former condition, Enkidu follows Gilgamesh, and the two go into the depths of the forest together. After another long journey they arrive at the sacred cedar of Humbaba.Gilgamesh takes the axe to his hand and cuts down the cedar. The resounding noise of the strokes of the axe brings fierce Humbaba to the scene. At the sight of this frightful ogre Gilagmesh is terror-stricken. He breaks into tears and cries to Shamash, the sun-god. Shamash hears his prayer and from all eight major points of the compass he sends mighty winds against Humbaba, so that he is neither able to go forward nor able to turn back ad has to surrender. Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut off his head and victoriously return to Uruk.


Upon his arrival in Uruk, Gilgamesh washes his hair, polishes his weapons, and garbs himself of festive attire. As he puts on his tiara, Ishtar, the goddess of love, looks with admiration upon the young and handsome king and, with many attractive promises, offer to be his wife. But Gilgamesh, knowing the viles if Ishtar, rejects her proposal in the most scathing terms. Enraged at this crushing humiliation, Ishtar mounts up to heaven and goes before Anu, her father, with the plea: “ Create for me the bull of heavens (that he may destroy Gilgamesh) ! “. After considerable hesitation, Anu consents. The bull is created and sent down upon Uruk. A whole army of men rush out to dispatch him, but it is of no avail. One snort from the bull, and the king’s men fell by the hundreds. Another snort, and the additional hundreds fall to the ground!. The he rushes upon Enkidu, but Enkidu gets hold of the thick of his tail, while Gilgamesh comes running along, thrusts his sword into the nape of the bull, and kills him. Foiled her plans, Ishtar ascends the wall of Uruk and utters a curse upon Gilgamesh. But Enkidu tears out the right thy of the bull of heaven and tosses it before her, amid vulgar taunts, while Gilgamesh dedicates the bull’s horns to his tutelatory god, Lugalbanda. Thereupon Gilgamesh and Enkidu wash their hands in the Euphrates, on whose former banks Uruk was located, and then ride in triumph through the thronged and lordly city, as Gilgamesh calls out in exultant gladness: “ Who is the (most) glorious among heroes? Who is the (most) eminent among men?” and an enthusiastic crowd responds in joyful acclaim” “ Gilgamehs is the (most) glorious among heroes; Gilgamesh is the (most) eminent among men!”.


That night Enkidu has a dream foreboding his own speedy end. He sees the gods assembled together, as they deliberate which of the two who killed Humbaba and the bull of heaven should perish. The lot falls on Enkidu. Subsequently he takes ill and dies, at the decree of the gods.


This has an overpowering effect on Gilgamesh. He cries “ bitterly like unto a wailing woman”. For seven days and seven nights he weeps over his friend and refuses to give him up for burial, hoping he will rise after all his lamentation. Finallyhe reconciles himself to the fact that the life of his friend is beyond recall, and Enkidu is buried with honours.


Stressed in sorrow at the death of his friend who has turned to clay, Gilgamesh leaves Uruk and roams over the desert, lamenting : “ When I die, shall I not be like unto Enkidu? “. His grief-stricken spirit is obsessed with the fear of death and ginds no comfort in the glory of his past accomplishments. His sole interest now lies in finding ways and means to escape the fate of mankind; he is willing to go through and the greatest perils and the most extraordinary hardships to gain immortal life. He thinks of far ways Utnapishtim ( Loga: the Su. Jiu-sudra, the Manu of VishNu Puranam, the TooNi Appar of Saivism etc, The Noah of Old Testament, the Nuuh Nabi of Islam etc), the Babylonian Noah, who, Gilgamesh has heard, has received blessed immortality, and decides to hasten to him with all possible speed to obtain from him the secret of eternal life.


But to reach the dwelling place of Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh must go on a long and arduous journey fraught with many dangers. He arrives at the towering mountain range of Maashu, probably the Lebanon and Antilebanon Range. Here is the gate through which the sun passes on his daily journey. The gate is guarded by terrifying pair of scorpion-people, “ whose look is death” and “whose frightful splendor overwhelms mountains”. At the sight of them the face of even a demigod like Gilgamesh becomes gloomy with fear and dismay, and he falls prostrate before them. But the scorpion-people, recognizing the partly divine nature of Gilgamesh, receive him kindly and permit him to enter the gate and to traverse the mountain range. After a journey of twelve double-hours of utter darkness, which does not permit him to see what lies ahead of the him or what lies behind him, he comes out on the other side and stands before a beautiful garden of precious stones, with tress and shrubs, fruit and vines, all of glittering stone.


And there in the distance, at the edge of the sun, probably the Mediterranean Sea on the Phonecian coast, dwells Siduri, the divine barmaid! Gilgamesh hastens thither and inquires of the her how he can get to Utnapishtim, to obtain from him the secret of immortality. The barmaid at first tries to persuade him that his quest is vain, for there is no escape from death. She therefore advises him to enjoy life in full measure and to abandon his hazardous, yet hopeless, undertaking. Nevertheless, Gilgamesh persists in his plan, and at last the barmaid directs him to Utnapishtim’s boatman, who has come across from the other side of the sea, where Utnapishtim dwells, and is now in the woods, in search of something. :Him let thy face behold,” she tells Gilgamesh. “If it is possible, cross over with him; if it is not possible, turn bah home.” Gilgamesh leaves the goddess and goes to the boatman, who at length agrees to take him along. With much difficulty the two cross the sea and the waters of death and finally arrive at the shores of the land of blessed Utnapishtim.

When Gilgamesh sees Utnapishtim and notices that this ancient sage is not different from him but that there is, in fact, less life and energy in Utnapishtim than there is in himself, his hope of getting immortality undoubtedly rises, and he asks Utnapishtim how he entered into the company of the gods and obtained everlasting life. Thereupon Utnapishtim relates to him at great length the story of the deluge, which we shall consider in detail in the final chapter of this book, and tells him how he obtained the boon of the immortal life. After that he turns to Gilgamesh and says to him, in effect: “ But now as foryou, who will assemble the gods to you so that they may confer immortality on you?” After a moment’s reflection, Utnapishtim offers this suggestion : “ Come, do not sleep for six days and seven nights”. The meaning of this line appears to be that if he can master sleep, the twin brother of death, he may then be able to master also death itself. But hardly has tired and exhausted Gilgamesh sat down when he falls asleep and sleeps for six days, until Utnapishtim finally wakes him.


There now seems to be nothing left for Gilgamesh but to return home. However, just as he departs and his boat is already moving away from the shore, Utnapishtim calls him back and reveals to him a secret of the gods. There is a thorny plant of wondrous power at the bottom of the sea; if he will obtain that plant and eat it, when he has reached old age, his life will be rejuvenated. Gilgamnesh descends to the bottom of the sea and obtains the plant. In the joy of his heart he now sets out for Uruk, accompanied by Utnapishtim’s boatman , who evidently has been banished from the land of Utnapishtim for having brought Gilgamesh to its shores. However, on the way home Gilgamesh sees a pool of cold water and goes bathing. While he is thus engaged, a serpent perceives the fragrance of the plant, comes up from the water, snatches the plant from him and eats it, and thus gains the power to shed its old skin and thereby to renew its life. Gilgamesh sits down and weeps bitterly, for his last ray of hope has disappeared, his last chances of gaining continued life is gone. But since there is nothing he can do about it, he returns to Uruk, and since he cannot change the course of destiny, he decides to be content with his lot and to rejoice in the work of his hands, the great city which he has built.


To this material was added in later days , as we shall see shortly, a story which in some respects is quiet incompatible with what precedes. According to this tale, recorded on the tablet XII, Gilgamesh makes two wooden objects of some kind, called pukku and mikku, respectively. One day they fall into the underworld, and Gilgamesh is unable to get them up. Finally, Enkidu descends into the underworld to bring them up for him. But, unfortunately, he fails to follow the instructions which Gilgamesh has given him and therefore is unable to return to the land of the living. Gilgamesh then goes from one god to another in an effort to have Enkidu released from the realms of the dead so that he may commune with him and find out the worst that is in store for man. At long last Enkidu is permitted to ascend, and, in answer to the questions put to him by Gilgamesh, he tells his friend a rather gloomy tale concerning the conditions in the dark abodes of death. On this sad and somber note the Gilgamesh epic ends


Notes: ( Loga) The epic tale ends but analytic studies would follow